Who between the two personalities in the history of mankind understood villages and villagers better is not the issue in this discourse as there was a huge area of unity of thought between them.
In a message of blessings to the members of central core team of co-operative society at the Viswa Bharati in Rabindranath Tagore's wrote in 1928 ,"The true essence of motherland is in the villages. There is the abode of life, the Goddess Lakshmi is seated there. But that seat has not been ready for a long time. The plutocrats (Dhananapati Kuver) drew people's attention to his dungeon, Yakshapuri. Ages back, we forgot to invocate the serenity (Shri) in the granary. Along with that, gone away from the country are the beauty, health, learning, bliss and only a little of life remains. Today, water bodies in the countryside are dried up, air polluted, roads inaccessible, storage nil. Social binding is loosened, jealousy and bad practices prevail. As a result, frailty of habitations is getting frailer."
It was the great muse (although litterateur only partially describes the unique man of the millennium) talked of pollution 84 years ago when the environment as a scientific discipline was in the nebulous stage Rabindranath was a deep ecologist, thought Marjorie Sykes, who had worked with both Tagore and Gandhi. She firmly stated that it was not Gandhi who originated the well-known saying: 'The Earth has enough for everyone's need but not for anyone's greed.' The myriad-minded poet focused on the Mother Earth and her children first in his essay 'City and Village', Sykes pointed out. . She did not take it seriously, the Indologist admitted. "Many years later, when I was a volunteer working on the Elmhirst Papers at the Dartington Hall Trust Archive, the name Rabindranath Tagore came to my attention again, and I learned of Leonard Elmhirst's work in India for Tagore on rural reconstruction. Finally, while studying Literature with the Open University, I encountered Gitanjali, which is most Westerners' first (and often only) experience of Tagore's writing, while studying W.B. Yeats, whose blood was stirred by this collection of 'song offerings'. And I have to confess, that the Tagore who wrote 'City and Village' appealed to me then far more than the Indian mystic, meaning Gandhiji.
In his programme of Swadeshi Samaj in 1905, synchronising with his valiant protest against Lord Curzon's Partition of Bengal, for which he wrote several timeless patriotic songs, Rabindranath Tagore, along with another lawyer with vociferous patriotism , enunciated his ideas for reconstruction of rural societies , based on traditional knowledge and values. "Villages in the country must be built up to be complete self-sufficient and able to supply all their needs."
But I do not say that Gandhiji copied Tagore in his Gram Swaraj which is a continuity of Hind Swaraj, the Mahatma wrote 101 years ago. Amit Bandyopdhyay who was deeply involved in the Naxalite movement and now a fellow traveler of CPI(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation group, essentially a scholar of history told this writer, " Nobody understood India as Rabindranath and Gandhi". It's difficult to disagree with him. Little wonder, the two great minds had a deep mutual reverence and camaraderie. Who between the two uncommon personalities in the history of mankind understood villages and villagers better is not the issue in this discourse as there was a huge area of unity of thought between them.
However, my objective is to evaluate Tagore as a thinker about village society. In 1944, Karl Polanyi formulated the concept of 'market society' in his seminal work Great Transformations. Tagore envisioned this in his essays on cooperatives in the late 1920s. Polanyi wrote - "No society could, naturally, live for any length of time unless it possessed an economy of some sort; but previously to our time no economy has ever existed that, even in principle, was controlled by markets. . . . Gain and profit made on exchange never before played an important part in human economy" Tagore wrote that internal 'symmetry' is the basis of society.
In an essay on the special character of Indian cooperative societal structure (not to be mixed with the juridical perception of co-operative societies), he criticised 'capital' strongly, envisaging the barbaric and predatory goals of the emerging system.
"Capital is such a thing that has surpassed all resources of society and creates a huge inequality….Machinery-dependent capital accumulation and the natural power of common people comprise an extreme asymmetry that forced common folk to accept defeat at every step."
Two decades thereafter, the Polish sociological economist wrote - "Though human society is naturally conditioned by economic factors, the motives of human individuals are only exceptionally determined by the needs of material want-satisfaction. That nineteenth century society was organised on the assumption that such a motivation could be made universal was a peculiarity of the age. It was, therefore, appropriate to allow a comparatively wide scope to the play of economic motives when analyzing that society"
Polanyi treads along the Marxian path. Incredible as it may, Marx envisioned the motive force of communist or socialist society as "Collective self-activity" while Tagore perceived the cooperative system, based on 'Sammilito atma-kortutwa' (United self-authority).
Sociologists, economists and scientists need to study Tagore's thoughts on 'human society' and ecological ideas. When the neo-liberal capitalist experiment tends to destroy the humanity, Tagore and Gandhi are our symbol of hope.